Socialists and Pacts with Capitalist Parties
In our April issue we replied to a letter written by Mr. W. J. Last, in which he gave his reasons for thinking that Socialists should join with the Labour Party and should support Trade Union struggles. We replied, pointing out that the differences between Socialists and the Labour Party are fundamental, and that the S.P.G.B. does support the efforts of the workers on the economic field.
We have now received a letter from “United Front” continuing the discussion. The writer, having failed to grasp what we replied to Mr. Last, repeats the advice that the S.P.G.B. should support struggles with the employers over wages, and tells us that “to deny that this is an integral part of the class struggle is to relegate that struggle to text books and arguments.” If “United Front” would read again the reply to Mr. Last, or would read any of the numerous pronouncements made by the S.P.G.B. in the past 32 years he would know that we do not deny that that is an integral part of the class struggle. On the contrary, we have on several occasions made a special point of criticising that school of thought which maintains that it is not part of the class struggle, but only a “commodity struggle,” like the haggling between buyers and sellers of other commodities, and which, consequently, believes that the term “class-struggle” should only be applied to the class-conscious minority of organised Socialists. So much for that.
The rest of “United Front’s” letter is as follows :—
“Can we deny that valuable reforms and concessions have been wrung from the ruling class with the collaboration of sections of the master class? Obviously, such privileges as the franchise, social insurance, free education, etc., are partly the work of petty bourgeois elements supported at times by sections of the ruling class itself. If the ruling class is divided on the question of peace or war we cannot say that this is a matter of indifference to the working class. The very weakness of the ruling class, its fundamental contradiction that makes its downfall inevitable is the conflict of interests within it. How then pan you maintain in Point 1 of your Declaration that the interests of the working class are diametrically opposed to all other interests?
Every concession gained by the workers strengthens their consciousness of their power and their need for unity. At the same time it prepares them for making fresh demands and, weakening the ruling class, makes the latter less able to concede them. Then and therefore comes the time when the working class, conscious of its power, makes a demand which the weakened and demoralised ruling class cannot grant. A reformist demand thereby becomes a revolutionary demand, as the workers, united, see the impotence of the ruling class and realise that they can seize power and thus solve their problems themselves.
In your reply to Comrade Last’s letter and in your Declaration of Principles you ignore the contradictions implicit in the capitalist system which must be exploited by conscious revolutionaries to bring about a downfall of the regime. As Comrade Last points out, failure to co-operate with Labour and other parties in a reformist policy because of abstract “Socialist” principles can only strengthen the reactionaries and demoralise the working class.
The role of a Marxist is to aid and direct the class struggle on every front—not to start a private war of his own against everybody.
The argument here is a hotch-potch of half-truths and false assumptions that need only be pointed out for their nature to be revealed.
In order to prove that Socialists ought to join with the Labour Party, “United Front” tells us that the franchise, social insurance, and free education are “valuable reforms,” gained with the collaboration of sections of the master class. He overlooks the fact that the greater part of these reform measures was gained before the Labour Party came into existence. Consequently, if they prove anything they prove that the Labour Party should never have been formed at all and that the still earlier policy of playing off Liberals and Tories against each other should have been continued. Then “United Front” leaves out of account the major aspect of some, if not all, reform measures. He assumes they were won because they were valuable to the workers. The truth is they were, in many instances, forced, on workers and capitalist minority alike, because they were valuable to the dominant section of the capitalist class. When, as in the case of the Trade Union Law in 1927, the capitalists have wanted to go back on changes formerly introduced, not all the wailings of all the reformist parties together made the slightest difference.
“United Front” tells us that “we cannot say “that the issue of peace and war” is a matter of indifference to the working class.” It is precisely for that reason that we have not said so, and we challenge our correspondent to show that we have ever said or suggested such a thing.
Granted, then, that the question of peace is a vital one to the workers, how does this necessitate that Socialists (who are utterly opposed to supporting capitalist wars) shall sink their identity in the Labour Party (which supported the last war and is committed to supporting the next if it is under League of Nations auspices) ?
The next statement, that the downfall of the ruling class is inevitable because of “the conflict of interests within it,” is contrary to Socialist teaching and to all the facts before our eyes. The downfall of capitalism is only inevitable because the working class have an interest in securing its downfall. The overthrow will come from outside the ranks of the capitalist class, not from within. That a minority of capitalists may be at loggerheads with the majority on certain secondary issues may hamper them, it will certainly not itself cause their downfall. On the primary issue of the maintenance of capitalist private ownership all sections of the capitalist class will unite against the working class. Can “United Front” name any exception to this rule?
Regarding the ancient theory resuscitated by “United Front,” that a reform demand becomes revolutionary when the capitalist class cannot grant it, not a year passes without numerous instances showing this to be false. By definition, a reformist demand is one which reforms without abolishing capitalism, and which, therefore, can be granted by the capitalists. Every time the capitalists are faced with a more or less widespread demand for some reform they can try various methods of splitting, side-tracking or breaking the movement. Failing anything else they can always go half-way and thus rob the movement of a large part of its support. They rarely have to concede the whole of the reform demand, but, of course, could, if need be. That is what they have done with demands for adequate maintenance for the unemployed, old-age pensions, “workers’ control,” etc., even down to appropriating the name ” Socialism ” in certain instances.
In conclusion, in order to make the position clear, we would emphasize that Socialism can only be brought about by Socialists. This involves the hard plodding work which the impatient and the ambitious cannot bear to undertake. To avoid it they seize upon any flashy apparent substitute which presents itself. The reformism and political bargaining with the capitalists advocated by “United Front” are all of them quack remedies of that kind. They lead to corruption, disgust and general apathy. Socialists must expose and condemn them without cessation.